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WTF Went Wrong with Nepali films?

Spoiler Alert: Nepali films are 💩 One after another film still tanks at the box office but the filmmakers are still very much adamant that they HAVE made good films, but the films aren’t working.

A photo of a movie theater with a big poop emoji placed on the screen

The following observation is based on my interaction with members of Nepali film fraternity for six years starting from 2012 till 2018, and I take full responsibility of all the claims I’ve made here. Let’s proceed. If you’re one of the filmmakers who makes shitty films, well, then 🤷‍♂️.

In the early 2010s, Nepali films were facing their worst times ever. Film production rate and success rate were at dramatic lows. Film producers did not know what to do. They tried their best to steer the sinking ship to shore but all their means and devices were falling short. One after another film tanked at the theaters, and this cancer of failure was spreading fast. It was a cancer of no cure. So the geniuses in the regulatory body for cinema, Nepal Film Development Board, came up with a genius plan to impose State of Emergency so they could save the failing films and prevent producers from losing money. Everybody had brilliant plans of how foreign films should be banned and local films promoted. However, no genius ever stopped to think about why the films were failing.

हामी यस्तो राम्रो फिल्म बनाउँछौं; यस्तो खर्च गरेर हलिउडमा खिचिने क्यामेराले खिचेर तर फिल्मै चल्दैनन् । पक्कै विदेशी फिल्मको प्रभाव हो । हाम्रो सिनेमा अब्बल छन् ।

When I met film producers/directors at that time, this was their general attitude towards films that were not working well. They felt something external was affecting their films. A lot of them blamed the Hindi films that dominated Nepali films. But nobody ever stopped to think about what might have caused most films to fall flat. Then came Loot. At a time when the whole industry was in the verge of collapse, Loot worked wonderfully. It proved the pundits wrong. It proved the hall-maliks wrong. People were laughing, applauding and cheering the success of this film. Nepali cinema had not seen a successful film like Loot (2012) since Darpan Chaya (2001).

Fast forward 6 years. Come 2019: निको भयो भन्ठानेको क्यान्सर रोग फेरि बल्झियो ।

Loot was a spark. Today, when I look back and evaluate Loot’s success, I don’t agree with the fact that Loot changed the trend in Nepali films and started a new era. In fact, Loot did not change anything. Loot was a spark and that spark quickly faded away. In an arena of vast empty cosmos, Loot’s success was a spark and before it could light up the whole world, it faded away – and now we’re back in the empty void, the exact spot where we were 10 years ago. One after another film still tanks at the box office (yes now we have Box Office; notice how I used the word “theatre” in the previous paragraph) but the filmmakers are still very much adamant that they HAVE made good films, but the films aren’t working.

Spoiler Alert: Nepali films are 💩

Today, in an average of 100 films, 98 of them are of poor or below-average quality. I am not talking about visual quality — that’s one area we have improved exponentially. Take films like Pashupati Prasad, Gopi, Saili and Bulbul as exceptions. These films stand as a testament that not all films are terrible and not all filmmakers are horrible. So having that established upfront, let’s proceed. We have the best cameras, best costumes, best locations – but the soul is lacking. A proper storytelling approach, screenplay and acting is the soul of a film, and when you take that out, all you’re left with is an unbearable hot mess. If I go and put this truth in front of any filmmaker, they will dismiss this fact calling it baseless. Of course, they know they made a great film, and who I am to tell them otherwise? But no matter how quickly and how often they dismiss the truth, truth will continue to persist. And what’s the truth you ask? Nepali films lack quality.

What’s Quality?

This is a very subjective question. Hollywood makes terrible films all the time, Bollywood has staple dose of horrible films that come out every week. So you cannot really have a single definition of quality; but to summarize the definition of a bad film, I’d say:

  • When a film lacks the coherent components of screenplay, structure and storytelling.
  • When actors are unable to use accurate emotions to portray a character and connect to the audience or end up building an incomplete character arc leaving the audience bewildered.
  • When cinematography doesn’t focus on aiding the storytelling but is used as a device to capture visual elements.
  • When the marketing and publicity cheats the audience by establishing false expectation from the movie.
  • When an adequate amount of re-writes haven’t been done to fasten up the loose ends of storytelling, thus leaving out many vestige scenes and situations that do not aid the overall story.
  • Inadequate amount of research and homework in the subject matter.
  • Use of distorted faces and loud acting to justify “comedy” without actually spending time to inject genuine humor into the situation and character.
  • When editing isn’t crisp thus deteriorating the overall watching experience.
  • Lack of domain knowledge. Applies to producers who do not understand investments and returns, directors who lack storytelling aptitude and actors who are simply stone-faced.
  • General Arrogance and inability to accept critical feedback.

The final point is probably the one that blocks any chance of improving the first nine bullet points. If you open-mindedly accept that you actually have room for improvement and you work towards improving, things would be different. The most recent Meme Nepal and Milan Chams case is one of the recent incidents that received a LOT of media exposure thus everybody knows about it. But things like these have happened many times of the past, just that it wasn’t reported.

But why so arrogant?

Good question. Having worked with a variety of directors and producers, I’ve developed genuine liking and respect for only a handful of people from the industry (with whom I’ve gone ahead and worked repeatedly). Apart from that, there’s just too much style and very little substance and you’ll be able to see that reflected on their work, their general media image and how they react to things. When the film Uma, directed by the seasoned director Tsering Rhitar Sherpa failed, he was humble enough to accept that he needs to work harder. That man doesn’t need to be humble — he directed and produced Mukundo, a film that went to be nominated in Academy Awards Best Foreign Film category. Yet, you will feel what an incredible person he is when you talk to him, the way he gets his things done. If more and more filmmakers adopted Mr. Sherpa’s humility and learned even a bit from him, the world would be a better place. I do not understand why it’s so hard to accept that you made a bad film. If more than one person in the office told me that there’s something wrong with my hair, I’d go to the mirror and see what’s wrong. I couldn’t be adamant that there is nothing wrong with my hair and I did the best hairstyling this morning.

Understand your Audience

In a world of lights and cameras, it’s often too difficult to clearly identify who is an audience. An audience is a person, a common man, who has nothing to do with the filmmakers, or the film, but wants to watch a good film. They want the value of their money. Unfortunately, a lot of times, I’ve seen a lot of filmmakers identify their followers as audiences. No, followers are just a fragment of your complete audience base. A follower is someone who always praises the other person no matter what they do or say and are hovering around both physically and online to protect and defend any garbage that comes out of the filmmaker’s mouth. Followers are not audiences, they’re not even a 1% – but a lot of filmmakers want to hear the positive feedback (or praise/worship) on how incredible they are and what a mind-blowing film they’ve made. So once in a while, when somebody comes forward with negative feedback, they’re angry. Very very angry.

Nobody comes talented from their mother’s womb. Even writer Craig Mazin, who made a series of shitty films like Scary Movie and Hangover went on to write and executive produce Chernobyl, the highest rated TV show ever. Had Craig not self-reflected and taken feedback, he’d never get there. If you see some Nepali directors who showed potential from their early on work, you’ll be disheartened to see how the quality of their work had degraded. Even good filmmakers are making bad movies now — why? Because they don’t listen! I am no longer actively involved with Nepali films and I no longer “hang out” with the folks, yet I hope for their best and wish them well.

Like I said, making a bad movie is not a sin. Everybody has a bad idea once in a while — but what really is important is your ability to accept feedback and improve. Iterate, self-reflect, see what could’ve possibly gone wrong and stop making the same mistakes again and again. Be like Craig or Tsering Dai.

Don’t be the guy who makes 💩 films but gets provoked by criticism. — Top red photo created by freepik